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Literature Study GuidesThe BearSection 1 Grief Summary

The Bear | Study Guide

William Faulkner

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The Bear | Section 1 (Grief) | Summary


The Bear is a one-act play where the action is continuous with no breaks for scenes. This study guide divides the play into six parts based on the characters' entrances and exits as well as crucial moments in the plot's development.


The play opens with Elena Popova staring at a photograph of her deceased husband Nicolai Mihailovitch while her loyal footman Luka harangues her for her decision to remain in mourning for seven months. Luka insists that the depth of her grief "isn't right" and goes so far as to claim she is "destroying" herself. She refuses to visit her neighbors or friends, much less actively engage in society. Luka warns her that she will change her mind later and want to remarry, but by then she will be too old to attract a suitable husband. Popova responds that "life lost all its meaning for me." She is determined to remain in mourning until her death. She acknowledges that Nicolai had multiple affairs during the course of their marriage. However, she does not believe that his unfaithfulness should affect her own grief over his loss. She tells Luka to give her husband's horse Toby extra oats because Nicolai "was so fond of Toby!" The bell rings, and Luka goes to see who is at the door. Popova remains alone with the photograph of her husband and reiterates her vow of devotion.


Elena Popova and Luka have a much more familiar relationship than most women and their servants. Luka accuses Popova of acting irrationally, and she debates the subject with him instead of dismissing his opinion outright. Luka is the only person she has left in her life now that Nicolai is gone. She has severed her connections with her friends and relations. She no longer goes into town. Luka has adopted the role of guardian as well as footman. He is considerably older than Popova and has already lost his own wife. He believes that his advanced experience with life's heartaches gives him the right to advise his mistress on matters of the heart.

Popova's grief over her husband has a tone of performance from the beginning of the play. She wants her neighbors to see how devoted of a wife she was to Nicolai. More importantly she imagines Nicolai can see her from beyond the grave. Her total devotion to mourning his memory therefore becomes a kind of retribution against Nicolai for his faithlessness. He abandoned her for weeks at a time, yelled at her, belittled her, and slept with other women. His affairs were public enough that Luka caught on to Nicolai's infidelity. Nicolai appears to have made no effort to spare Popova's feelings or protect her dignity. She has decided to repay Nicolai's betrayal with such a display of devotion that people will speak of it for years after her death. It is the one form of revenge she believes she has left to her.

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